Stop. It’s OK

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”  (Luke 1:47 NIV)

Ok all you nay sayers, it’s finally time for you to begin to celebrate Christmas. You were the epitome of the Grinch when the stores put out their Christmas decorations in August.  You whined about how Christmas was going to “take over or overshadow Thanksgiving”  Now you have no excuse. And for the record, yeah Christmas is supposed to overshadow Thanksgiving. One is about our being Thankful and diving into a food orgy. The other is about the Incarnation of God.  And before you get upset with me about Thanksgiving, please read last week’s post. I’m all for celebration.

The “official” beginning of The Advent season got me to thinking though.  What is it that marks the beginning of the Season for you? Is it that first candle lit on the Advent wreath at church?

Is it Santa at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade? No judging, by the way. If that’s the signal for you, that’s fine.  After all when I was a kid there were two signals that the Season began. One was the old Norelco ad of Santa riding on a razor like a sled

 

Cute isn’t it? Did you see what they did there? Noel, Noelco…Norelco.. Anyway, they only ran this at Christmas time when I was a kid. It was a sure as an Advent Calendar in our lives.  But it wasn’t the real  signal. No it was the precursor, the John the Baptist of Christmas signals. No. Evry child knew there was a song, and one song alone that made our hearts lighter and thinking of Christmas.  No, not “O, Holy Night” or even Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  It was this

You watched the whole thing didn’t you? Be glad I didn’t put up the 10 hour loop.  But as a child, before the days of streaming and DVD’s you had one shot at seeing this. And this meant Christmas. How can you not love it? You have a kid who dances like a Zombie from the Walking Dead, the twin girls who later make an appearance in The Shining, and that cool kid in the yellow shirt who has the best understated moves of all.

Of course, while this still kind of does, it my tastes have changed somewhat. What about you? Is it one of the Hymns? Perhaps something a little more recent like “Mary Did you Know?”  As we are beginning Advent together, let me make a suggestion for you, just to get you in the right frame of mind, for this Advent season.  Harry Chapin’s “The Cat’s in the Cradle”

I’m not going to post it here, it’s easy for you to find. And I know it seems like the least likely Christmas/Advent song at all. But do you remember what the song is about? A Dad, who never has time for his son because of the busyness of his life, eventually loses his son because he has “trained him up in the way he should go” The son becomes too busy for the father. It’s about our not losing sight of what is important in life.  Not letting the busy work of life blind us to what’s important.

Sound familiar? A lot of us come into the Advent season unwillingly because all we can see is the busy work. The Tree, gifts, shopping coking baking. Oh yeah, and if we can, we’ll  sprinkle a little Jesus in somewhere.

When did Christmas become something we dread instead of something we can’t wait to experience?  Don’t let all the preparations this year keep you from experiencing the wonder of the birth of Jesus, God Himself born that we might  be saved. That the world might be redeemed.

This year, let me encourage you to stop. Don’t get everything done. It’s OK Christmas will come anyway. Take a breath. Pray more. Gaze into the manger with wonder. Hold your loved ones just a bit longer. Laugh more. Breathe. Maybe you’ll find your song changing into that first Advent song, Mary’s Magnificat we see at the top of this page. Isn’t that a better song to sing?

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

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The Ugly Church

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”  (Psalm 47:1 NIV)

There are some things so strange, you just can’t make them up.  For instance, this morning, in the newspaper I came across this headline:  “Aftermath of world’s ugliest man contest turns ugly”  I probably could have come up with a better headline such as “faces turn sour over ugliest  man contest.”  But be that as it may, it grabbed my attention enough to read it.

It turns out it’s not really a world contest, but the ugliest man in Zimbabwe contest. The reigning champ has been declared the ugliest man three years running. Rather than being a disheartening thing, he is very proud of his station in life.

This year, however, the mighty have fallen. He lost to  a man who not only suffers from being fairly homely ,but  has several lost teeth and the ones he has are misshapen.  The poor dental work, whcih add to his ability to contort his face, gave him what the others believe to be an unfair advantage over anyone else in the contest.

I’m going  to let that one sink in for a second. This is a case of someone complaining that they are not ugly enough and that it’s unfair someone else might be uglier than they re.  Of course we all want to have pride in ourselves and we all want some notoriety for something in life. I’m not sure this is what I would pick, but at least I understand their angst.

But it seems strange doesn’t it to argue over who is uglier? Why would we want to portray an ugly face to the world? Why would we choose not to have beauty?

But in some ways that’s exactly what the church does. There are times when I wonder if the church, and by that I mean you and I as the Body of Christ, are attempting to  win some sort of ugly religious people contest. Look at how many of us portray the Body of Christ on social media. We spew out anger and ugliness on others. We lift up an ugly portrait of the church.

But it’s more than that isn’t it? It’s more than an unfortunate  ugliness we portray behind a keyboard and screen.  There seems to be, within many of us, a simple absence of joy  that leads to an unattractive faith.  We spend so much time focusing on the doom and gloom of life. We act as if having fun, or smiling is the unforgivable sin. We apologize for any frivolity in life. We walk around with cramped faces, cramped hearts.  In short, its ugly.

And that’s not what the church is supposed to be. We are to be the ones with the most joy in life. After all, we have Jesus. We’ve been forgiven, we’ve been redeemed. Rather than singing dirges, we ought to be dancing, singing “The Joy Of The Lord is My Strength!”

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been attracted to people like C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Cheserton. Not just for their brilliance, but for the beauty of their faith.  They understood having fun, rejoicing with one’s friends, is sometimes one of the most holy things we can do. They fully understood that eating more than one should, laughing too loud every now and then wasn’t sinful, but a simple enjoyment of the bounty of God.  It deson’t make us less responsive to the needs of the poor, simply because we rejoice in God’s blessings.

Isn’t it time we again bring the beauty of the Church back into the world and show them true joy? We are on the cusp of the Christmas Season and this week is Thanksgiving. So laugh more. Eat more than you should on Thanksgiving, have that extra piece of pie (remember it’s a holiday we aren’t advocating gluttony). Actually  be thankful and celebrate with a little less guilt this year. There is enough ugliness in the world as it is. Let’s show the world the true beauty of a joy found in Jesus.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Litmus Test

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)

With Christmas hurdling at us (only two weeks until Advent!) I find my mind going back to some of my favorite Christmas presents as a child. Often they were the ones I didn’t expect, even more so than the ones I had long wished for and anticipated.

This was certainly true for the chemistry set I received when I was 8 or 9.  To this day I’m not sure what my parents were thinking. I suppose it was because the chemicals in the set weren’t dangerous. Not that this stopped me from dumping the chemical together to get some sort of massive chemical reaction.

Oddly enough one of the things that fascinated me the most in the set was the red and blue litmus paper. You used the litmus paper to see if something was an acid or a base.  I’m not sure why this captured my imagination, only that I remember running around and testing everything.

The interesting thing is you can’t fake a litmus test. The paper reveals what something is. Not what it wants to be, or pretends to be, or tells the world it is. No, the paper reveals what something is at its core.

Much of the world is still shaken by the events of this past week, both in Beirut and in Paris. It shakes us on several levels. First, we are caught by the sheer inhumanity of anyone who could take so many innocent lives purely for ideological purposes. Secondly it shakes us because we begin to wonder if there, why not here? Wil we be next?  Which of course is the exact purpose of terrorism. it’s to break us an analyzes us in our lives.

But should we react to such mind numbing violence? How are we to respond?  I’m not concerning myself with how a government or governments should respond in this blog.  However I do believe Scripture is clear that governments are a God ordained structure, one of whose primary purposes is to protect the citizens of that nation, terrorism must be dealt with.

But I’m more focused today on how we, you and I, are to respond to such atrocities. What will our response reveal about who we are? What will this litmus test say about our hearts?

In our Scripture above, taken from the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus is clear that our response should be Love. Jesus simply says love your enemies.  I confess loving your enemies is one of those principles that is easier to do in the abstract. It’s much more difficult when you have enemies, or are undergoing prosecution.

How are we to respond to such evil with love? Because Jesus did. Read the passage of Scripture again, maybe a little slower. Can you see what Jesus is saying? he isn’t saying “love others because it’s a nice thing to do, and I do it.” What Jesus says is love others so “that you might be children of your Father in heaven.”  Did you catch it? Jesus is saying if you are truly a child of your Father you will naturally love others, displaying a supernatural love even in the face of supernatural evil.  In other words, how we respond to evil is a litmus test of our hearts. It reveals not what we say we are, what we would want others to think of us. It reveals  who we are.  If we are a child of our heavenly Father, we will respond with love. But how? How can we respond with love?

First because we have hope. In the end, we know evil and terror will not win. Jesus is the victor. he sits on the throne of heaven, He will break and defeat all sin, redeem His creation and bring home His bride, the church, to be cherished forever. We love because we know we face a defeated enemy.

We respond with love and forgiveness because we understand love is not a sign of weakness. Actually just the opposite. Only those who are strong are able to react with love when hatred would be so much easier.

We respond with love because we have experienced it.  What has really changed you? It’s not good intentions or hard work, as important as they are. What has changed us is the love of Jesus Christ. He redeemed me from sinner to child of God. If I have experienced a life changing love, how can I keep from sharing it with others even the most evil?

We respond with love because we know, because we have experienced it, this is what will free the world. As I said I believe in government response to terrorism. But I also understand that the world needs a witness of a faith of people genuinely changed by Jesus who can stand and show that evil cannot force a response of hatred. I believe only the witness of the church will usher in the Kingdom of God.

I’d encourage you not to live with this in the abstract. Yes, these events are half the world away. But what about the evil in your world? How are you responding to that? You run across broken, mean spirited unhappy people all the time. People who wish you nothing but evil.  If you don’t believe me, take someone’s parking space at the mall during Christmas shopping season and see how they react. Oh yes, I know that’s a small thing. But doesn’t our response reveal what’s in our heart ? Are you  loving those around you? Praying for them?  What does your heart reveal about you?

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Keeping Jesus Where He belongs

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

To red cup, or not red cup that is the question!  Have you been following the latest “controversy” surrounding the cups at Starbucks?  Before I go any further,let me say if the biggest concern you have is over what’s written on the side of your overpriced coffee cup, you don’t really have any problems.

But that being said, I guess Starbucks is no longer having the word Christmas on their seasonal red cups.  For some reason people are upset that Starbucks has “taken the Christ” of Christmas.  I’m not exactly sure why we should be surprised by this, I don’t know who was under the presumption that Starbucks was a Christian business.

Be that as it may, many Christians are letting Starbucks know they aren’t going to sip their latte’s lying down. They are taking a stand against such an egregious mistake as removing references to Christ during Christmas.  Many are boycotting Starbucks until after the holiday, because, well you can’t do without your Chai all year. Principles are one thing, but you have to have perspective. Others are going so far as to tell the barista that their name is “Merry Christmas (or if you are female you can get by with Mary Christmas) to force them to put Merry Christmas on their holiday cups.

All the while the protestors ignore the big questions. Questions such as why do I have to order my drink in Italian? Why can’t I just order a large? I ought not have to take a course from Rosetta Stone just to get my coffee. And that’s another thing.  They sell coffee. So why do I get a weird look when all I ask for is a coffee? Because everyone likes to be judged by a 19-year-old presumptuous barista. “Just coffee?” Or why do I always get behind the person making an order that sounds more like a final exam for a pharmaceutical degree (I’ll have the half caf, skinny extra foam, sodium nitrate, hydrogen formulated…)

I’m all for Christmas. And I do, in all seriousness, wonder what non believers actually are celebrating at Christmas if it’s not Jesus? If It’s not Him, what are we celebrating that has any true significance? And no I don’t like the over commercialization. I don’t like the fact that schools no longer have Christmas break and seem to go out of their way to even recognize Christmas is happening.

But at the same time I wonder if not only are we, in the case of the red cups, making a mountain out of a molehill, but if we aren’t going about the whole issue in the wrong way. Perhaps expecting secular groups to keep Christ in Christmas is the wrong path to take. Rather we ought to  ask ourselves, as Christians, how do we keep Christ in Christmas? Isn’t it by keeping Christ in ourselves and in every action?

Forcing that barista to write Merry Christmas on a cup probably isn’t going to change her life. But giving her a larger tip and telling her it’s because it’s Christmas might. Taking an active interest in who she is, like Jesus would, and waiting for the Holy Spirit to give you an opening to witness probably would. Inviting her to Christmas Eve services would.

Do you want to keep Christ in Christmas (nd in Starbucks?) Try being more like Jesus and less grouchy and impatient this year when you are in line. Stop rolling your eyes at that person who isn’t dressed like you are and  sporting a few extra piercings. Instead of getting irritated when the person in front of you is taking too long to order, use that time to pray for everyone in line.  You want to keep Christ in Christmas? Order two coffees and give one to that person huddled outside who is cold and perhaps without a job.

If we want to keep Christ in Christmas we might just want to start doing a better job of keeping him in ourselves.

in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV)

My news feeds were filled with posts about Ohio State quarterback J. T. Barrett’s being pulled over and charged with ‘driving while intoxicated. Now that in and of itself isn’t surprising. When you live in Central Ohio, or in Columbus as I did for many years, Buckeyes football always fills your news feeds. It doesn’t matter what it is. “Defensive Coordinator changes parking sticker” will run for three or four days.

Of course, this is a much more serious offense for several reasons. Ohio State is undefeated, reigning national champs, and young J. T. Barrett is a large part of that success. So his arrest and the potential punishment to be handed down was big news.

We didn’t have long to wait. Coach Urban Meyer reacted immediately and suspended Barrett for the next game.  While I’m a Barrett fan, and though he should have started from the beginning this year, I applaud Meyer’s decision.  Learning that breaking the rules now will help Barrett in the long run as he continues to grow into adulthood. He broke the law and he potentially put others in danger by getting under the wheel. We can debate if the punishment should have been more, but Meyer leans towards “it’s a first offense, he’s been a good kid so far, it’s one dumb mistake.” reasoning.

While we can debate this, what I found interesting was  I saw most comments go away from  Barrett and more towards the team.  People began to ask, “How will this affect the team?”  “How could he be so selfish not the be thinking about his teammates?” “What might happen to the rest of the season.”  All the stuff you expect fans to write.

And yes, it’s a bit selfish. It does point to our tendency to think about how any event may affect us  personally and  then subscribe the appropriate amount of outrage to it. But whether they realized it or not, those fans did put a finger on the pulse of a deeper biblical and spiritual issue. We are all connected. And the decisions we make do affect others around us.

Paul says it this way “Now you are the body of Christ. And each one of you is a part of it.’  We often look at these verses when we are trying to drum up support for a new ministry or we need volunteers. But I wonder if we  explore the idea of our being the Body of Christ deep enough? Surly Paul sees this concept as  more than a device to get everyone involved.

Think of the human body. Everything is interconnected. When one part of the body, for instance, gets an infection, the entire body is affected.  The white blood cell count changes. We develop fevers. Muscles ache, we get nauseous. If it goes too long we may become faint. Let an infection go too long and the entire body will shut down. Death will come.

This is why we can’t “mind our own business” when sin is rampant within the church. While it’s easier to ignore it, we do so at the risk of the entire system think of sin as an infection that will damage the entire system, the Body of the church if the healing doesn’t take place.

I’m not advocating a witch hunt of everyone’s sins. But perhaps we ought to be more diligent when we know our brothers and sisters are struggling, to pray for them.  Perhaps our “accountability” groups would be more than just a time of sharing. We’d actually want to know how it is with one another’s soul. Why? Because if you struggle, I struggle.  If you hurt, I hurt.

Most of all,perhaps we’d take a long look into the dark places of our own hearts. we’d realize we don’t have the luxury of saying, “I’m not hurting anyone but myself.”  How I live affects my wife and my children even if they never know about it. We are connected. Perhaps walking in holiness would be easier if we remembered our connection.  Perhaps.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><